on 8 January 2012
Aleister Crowley is certainly in need of an objective biography, and this book almost delivers.
The author's strong points are his knowledge of esoteric societies and ideologies, and thanks to his access to Crowley's papers, he has been able to tell the tale as Crowley experienced it. I like the way Churton doesn't try to tell the reader what 'really' took place in the frequent supernatural incidents. He describes what happened, how Crowley experienced it and what was the context, and lets the reader decide.
But the book has its flaws, some merely irritating, others really serious. Churton doesn't quite worship Crowley, but comes close. Therefore he often attributes to him prophetic abilities that are very much overblown. You didn't have to be a prophet in the early years of the 20th century to see that a great war was coming or that Russia was on verge of revolution. But Churton, in awe of his subject, sees these as examples of Crowley's powers. Also I'm not at all certain that Crowley's intelligence role during the WWI was as important as the author makes out. For example, Crowley could not have influenced the supposed German decision to sink Lusitania for the very simple reason that such decision was never made by German leadership -- the decision was made by the U-boat captain on the spot.
For reasons already mentioned it's obvious that the author's grasp of political history is weak. But the book's most spectacular blunder comes on page 293. There Churton describes a military crisis that allegedly took place between the UK and France in 1926 over Egypt's western border. I found that very remarkable, because (for example) France didn't have any colonies bordering Egypt (its western neighbor was Libya, an Italian colony). I made a Google search, and what did I find? Only one website describes such a crisis: [...] -- an alternate history website! If only Mr Churton had bothered to check the front page, he could have seen that for himself.
As far as Crowley's life and the doings of a small coterie of occultists go, this is a worthy book, and makes sense of why Aleister Crowley became such a counter-culture icon. Churton expertly dispels the old calumnies about Crowley as a Satanic corruptor of maidens and youth. But whenever the author tries to make a point about the world surrounding them, remain very skeptical.
on 12 November 2012
Its fairly obvious that Churton is a Crowley fan,turning a blind eye to the trail of human wreckage that Crowley left in his wake.For instance Rose Kellys alcoholism was all her own fault and nothing to do with the stress of being married to the beast,Raoul Loveday died from drinking impure water and not from drinking the blood of a sacrificed cat,etc,etc.But Crowley has had so much misinformed crap thrown at him over the years maybe its good someone has tried to restore some balance.
The stand out chapter is chapter 26,where Churton explains how it was actually true that Crowley actually did give Churchill the idea for the v sign as a symbol for peace and victory,when most people up to now thought it was one of Crowleys foolish boasts.(It has come to light in recent years that both Crowley and Churchill worked in the MI5 in earlier years}.Are we eventually going to discover that it was he who gave the nazi party the idea to have a swastika as a symbol,which Crowley has hinted at.And some may be surprised at the vehemency of Crowleys put downs of nazism and Germans in general,as revealed by Churton in some of Crowleys letters of that time.
This must be aproximately the tenth Crowley biography,which tells you a lot,but I fear people have the same fascination for Crowley as they have for Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson.Anyone who sacrifices a cat does'nt make it in my book.How many of he's readers could slit a cats throat under any circumstances?
on 7 January 2012
From the outset, Churton does a first rate job of guiding the reader in and out of 'the legend' into a rewarding appreciation of this extraordinary individual. The updated research revealed is remarkable but Churton's greatest strength is in giving context and translating the ideas, mindset and zeitgeist of a man who precisely tested the limits of his own radically changing times. In addition to conveying the extremes and paradoxes of his subject's thoughts and practices, the author surrounds his own arguments with an objectifying showcase of insights from contemporaries and inheritors of his legacy. An absolutely rewarding work, highly recommended.
on 27 July 2013
There is no question that Tobias Churton knows almost everything there is to know about Aleister Crowley's writings and the entanglements of his immensely eventful life. The research that has gone into this book is impressive, as is Churton's knowledge of certain esoteric doctrines and rituals. There is also no question that Crowley, though widely reviled, managed to fascinate many of the people he encountered. I had hoped that this book might make some sense of that fascination. But it fails to do that, largely because Churton himself is as enthralled by his subject as were any of Crowley's acolytes.
We seem to be asked to believe, for example, that Crowley once caused a miraculous increase in the moon's luminosity, and that he generated a supernatural light in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid ('the light persisted, parting only with the dawn'). It is proposed that Crowley waged 'an astral battle with Hitler, fighting on planes unseen by the eyes of the world'. And so it goes on. Crowley is taken entirely at his own valuation - he is a man who achieved greatness in everything he did, yet was persecuted on all sides by fools and hypocrites. The book is replete with instances of Crowley's megalomaniacal bullying, but he is never held accountable for the damage he inflicted on others. His sexual predatoriness is celebrated as the prerogative of genius ('We should not assume that sex was for Crowley as it is for others'). Critics of Crowley are dismissed as snobs, whereas Crowley's own snobbery ('he felt his mother was socially beneath both himself and his father') is to be taken as the mark of a spiritual aristocrat.
Crowley declared himself to be a great man, and Churton tells us repeatedly that he was indeed a great man, an Übermensch who was in many ways 'ahead of his time' (at one point he is even credited with anticipating the Spice Girls), but this book contains no evidence to support Crowley's self-evaluation. He was a 'great artist', supposedly - but the paintings reproduced here are no better than juvenile fantasies. He was a 'great poet' - but the given examples of Crowley's poetry are grandiloquent and tin-eared doggerel. Above all, he was a great 'religious philosopher' - but much of the supposedly philosophical writing quoted by Churton is merely self-aggrandising claptrap. And Churton's credentials as a judge of Crowley's literary output are somewhat compromised by his own prose - his grasp of syntax is weak ('Struggling for life, Frieda rushed to his bedside', et cetera), and his style is often ludicrously portentous. 'If England were a spiritual country,' he writes, 'the Ashdown Park Hotel in Coulsdon, Surrey, would be a shrine to where England's prophet met his Holy Guardian Angel and became absorbed in divinity; a holy site where competing sects of Crowleyanity could battle over who owned it. Alas, the Ashdown Park Hotel, Coulsdon, was demolished in 1971.' Such pronouncements are frequent, and - leaving aside any questions of style - they reveal Churton to be not so much a biographer as an evangelist for a lost messiah. But most readers, I suspect, will not be persuaded that Crowley was anything other than a charlatan. An unusually charismatic and energetic man, maybe, but a charlatan nonetheless.
on 2 December 2011
The author's contention is that Crowley's life has not so much been written as 'written over'. He sets out to redress the balance but I am not entirely convinced that he succeeds. He presents what he says are unpublished records, diaries and the like but the frantic pace of his writing doesn't leave the reader much chance to assess this evidence for his/herself before Tobias Churton gives his own, invariably positive, assessment. This is basically a one word stamp of approval such as 'genius', 'brilliant', 'perfect' but with no furthert discussion. In one example, Crowley is supposed to have come close to discovering relativity before Einstein. In other cases, too little is given to make a judgement such as the mountaineering disaster in which team members died and Crowley was apparently to blame. Similarly, there is not much about Crowley's work on the tarot with Frieda Harris, simply that he wasn't invited to the launch party.
The problem is that Tobias Churton has decided at the outset that Crowley was not as bad as his reputation and tries to correct the bad press but in a tone of gushing admiration and at too fast a pace. He writes as if lecturing to awestruck undergraduates, playing to the gallery somewhat, rather than to a critical readership who don't wish to be goaded into any particular point of view, for or against. I suspect the author will be the darling of the O.T.O. for somewhile to come!
If you have not come across 'The Beast 666' before you might have difficulty following this version; the origins of the Book of the Law, for example, is pretty incomprehensible as are frequent technical references during Crowley's adventures with Yoga and Buddhism.
In sum, I think this is a good book but likely to be appreciated more if you have already read up on its subject. I would recommend Roger Huchinson's account as a not unsympathetic version of the orthodox view though there are many others (including even Colin Wilson's disappointing effort). In which case Tobias Churton's new version would be very interesting as the counter argument. I personally found it a difficult read though due to it's subjectivity.
on 15 December 2013
Tobias Churton has clearly done a huge amount of research into his subject, reading Crowley's letters and diaries, and those of his friends and enemies, many of them very interesting people in their own right. Although I'd read a lot about Crowley, I hadn't realised how many famous people he was friends with. The MI5 angle was new to me, though not surprising given that Crowley was an emotionally an old-fashioned Tory patriot, despite his intellectual contempt for the British establishment.
The down side of the book is that Churton is a bit too much of a fan. He doesn't entirely excuse Crowley's selfish behaviour, but he kind of skates over it, merely acknowledging that (in the words of one of his lovers and magickal partners), "all great saviours have been bastards". Many women who got seriously involved with Crowley seem to have come to a bad end- was this because he attracted women who were already damaged or did he damage them, and if so how? A biography should ask this question even if it cannot answer it. I'd like to know more about some of these women, because some of them were fascinating characers in their own right- especially Leila Waddell and Patricia Doherty (McAlpine)who was wise enough to never actually live with Crowley even though she volunteered to bear his child.
on 13 April 2012
Aleister Crowley was a man who experienced great wealth and poverty, traveled widely, sometimes during political upheaval, and wrote over 50 works on subjects as diverse as magick, philosophy, politics, and culture and was a published poet and playwrite. The world he knew is long gone. But it is curious that in 2002 Crowley was voted 73rd in a BBC Poll as one of the 100 Greatest Britons when on his death bed in 1947 he was still maligned as the "wickest man in the world" soon to be forgotten. In our cynical world where we are shocked by practicaly nothing, he still remains one of the few figures of controversy. Is it truly the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil? And have we grown up now? Is it our own shadows we project on to him or our own heart of darkness, desires and prejudices, that he holds a mirror to?
There has long been a gap in the market for a book on Crowley which explores Crowley the human being, rather than Crowley the myth and this book written comprehensively with style, is very successful in finding that balance although the reader is expected to have some knowledge about Crowley and is not spoon fed information. There is much in the biography that is covered in Richard KacZysnski 'Perdurabo' and Richard Spence's 'Secret Agent 666', but there is fresh research into the Crowley ancestory, and previously unpublished letters and memories of Crowley's grandson Eric Muhler and his mother Lulu Astarte. There is also a very interesting chapter about the Yezidi in connection to Aiwaas the entity that dictated to Crowley the infamous Book of Law.
It is practicaly impossible to write a definitive biography on Crowley, so you can't say any biography is really definite. A whole book could be written about his travels across China amongst other journeys, as well as The Abbey at Cefalu, even the trivia, his recipies and cocktails (lethaly alcoholic and full of the era's drugs) make interesting reading. However the author succeeds in sheding new light on the old myths and scandlemongering, allowing a different side of Crowley and his unique journey through life to emerge, through the all the muck racking. The book has been critised as overly reverential but I don't feel this is accurate. Aleister Crowley is a man difficult to define, and perhaps that is part of his enduring appeal. The reader has to make their own mind up about The Great Beast and his infamy, and find their own answers.
on 14 September 2011
Clearly this book has been thoroughly researched and presents a fascinating insight into 'The Beast'. What a man. His achievements certainly outweigh the negative things he did. He spied, he travelled, he painted and wrote poetry. He knew everyone who was anyone. Great read
on 2 April 2013
I found this book very frustrating, it jumped about all over the place and consisted of theory after theory and was obsessed with trying to prove Aleister worked for MI6 etec etc blah blah. I have read a lot of books on Aleister and I have to say this one was no good and told me nothing new I was very disappointed
on 30 September 2011
What an amazing book! Tobias Churton has certainly excelled here with a balanced and non-judgmental book.
His research is second to none and his style is highly engaging.
This must be his best book, I could hardly put it down much to the consternation of those about me.
Crowley is obviously one of the great spiritual lights of the age and we would all do well from finding the true man.